On the first Saturday morning in July, just prior to 6:30, the south parking lot of Sedgwick County Park is filled to capacity. Overflow traffic is diverted to a second parking lot slightly to the west. This is not what one would normally expect to find so early in the morning, even on a weekend, unless of course there is a road race or a community sponsored event being held. But there is no road race scheduled, nor strictly speaking, is there a community event scheduled.
There is, however, something very special taking place; upwards of one-hundred and eighty runners have gathered for a group training session sponsored by GoRun Wichita, a local running specialty store with two locations in Wichita. The clinic, known as Start2Finish, or S2F, is tailored toward runners of all abilities who hope to participate in any of the races affiliated with the Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon—either 5K, half marathon, or the full marathon—scheduled for Sunday, October 14th, 2012.
This is actually the second S2F clinic. The initial S2F clinic was launched at the start of 2012 and was geared toward runners who wanted to train for the annual River Run 2-mile or 10-K races as part of the Wichita Riverfest in June. That particular clinic had almost 300 participants. But more amazingly, the current Prairie Fire S2F group has nearly 850 registered participants signed up.
For a business that first opened its doors in October of 2010, this level of clinic participation is unprecedented and phenomenal, to say the least, especially for a business which has relied mainly upon social media and word-of-mouth promotion for its marketing. But GoRun may be so much more than merely a running specialty store. In no small way, GoRun has become the primary influence on a Wichita running boom and the development of a running community of which the likes have never been seen before, even during Wichita’s running heydays of the 1970s and ‘80s.
GoRun Wichita is the brainchild of two friends, Kevin Swinicki and Randy Mijares, both humble yet talented runners in their own right. While they are just as surprised by the unprecedented and rapid growth and popularity of their business, they prefer to remain low-key and are reluctant to accept much credit for this rapid success. Instead, they are quick to praise their loyal following and devoted customers who have flocked to their two store locations and helped spread the word about GoRun throughout the Wichita running community.
In addition to simply selling shoes and running gear, GoRun has earned a positive reputation and built a large, satisfied customer base by literally going the extra mile for its clientele. Both stores—the West location at 2556 N. Maize Road – Suite 108, and the East location 2350 N. Greenwich Road – Suite 1300 Suite—are staffed by knowledgeable and accomplished runners, many of whom have competed at the collegiate level and still race frequently. But GoRun is not staffed by a pack of running snobs and employs a staff comprised of runners who reflect the community it serves. GoRun is truly a business that both caters to and is comprised of runners of all ability levels. The mid-pack running mom offers as much running expertise to customers as the front-of-the pack elite rep.
Aside from offering customers running expertise, GoRun regularly sponsors group runs, product promotions, and specialized running clinics on anything from nutrition to the physiology and psychology of running. Factor in a store environment that offers coffee, refreshments, and a place to shoot the breeze about running with other runners, and GoRun has quickly gained a reputation as being the premier running store in the Wichita area.
Alex Umberger is a former high school standout runner from Maize High School who competed at Kansas State University and now works full time for GoRun. Umberger is as ebullient, friendly, and outgoing as one might expect from someone who works in an environment that represents what so much of his life has been dedicated to up till now. “The goal from day one with Kevin and Randy was to create a store where people can get quality customer service and create this excitement about running,” Umberger said. “GoRun Wichita has been able to do this with the great staff we have and the creation of the S2F programs.”
On the second weekend of July, the S2F training program continues with no less than one-hundred and sixty enthusiastic participants on a hot and humid morning. Many of the staff members of both stores are assembled to assist clinic runners with stretching and encouragement. Along the various routes, the staffers gather to cheer on the participants, and at the end of the routes, there are several iced down coolers of water awaiting the finishers. The staff hangs around to assist runners to any extent possible.
Glenda Shank started with the initial River Run S2F group in early January. Shank, who has been running on her own for about 5 or 6 years, was so impressed with S2F that she told her family members about it and encouraged them to sign up for the Prairie Fire Marathon training. As a result, her daughter-in-law, Ruth Shank, as well as her two sisters, Jan McDonald and Patty Smith, have joined them in training for the Prairie Fire 5-K. Additionally, Shank’s husband, Rick, and McDonald’s husband, Steve, have signed up to run the Prairie Fire half marathon. Smith’s son-in-law, Danny Wilson, rounds out the group, making this S2F clinic a true family affair.
“This truly is amazing,” Glenda Shank says with an enthusiastic smile. “These groups and what they’ve done for Wichita running are just incredible.”
The overarching sentiment of most S2F participants echoes much of what Shank says. Runners are just thrilled to be a part of a larger running community that is supportive of one another without regard for running ability or achievement. As one anonymous participant wrote in a comment sent to GoRun: “S2F has been an amazing investment in my future. I’ve made excuses in the past, one being family time, but I’ve realized the greatest gift I can give my children is to model a healthy lifestyle and to improve my health and longevity for them. The support groups and clinics help keep me motivated and focused on my goals. You guys have impacted so many lives with this program. Thank you.”
There has long been a considerably active and vibrant running community in the Wichita area, but seldom has there been a cohesive force to bring it all together in such large gatherings as GoRun seems to have done. It is indeed rare for so many runners to assemble at one time outside of organized racing, but GoRun does it regularly. Aside from their S2F clinics, regular running groups assemble at both store locations at 6 o’clock on Wednesday evenings, and staff members host track speed sessions on Tuesday evenings at 7 p.m. at Friends University. Mini-running clinics usually follow the Wednesday evening runs on a rotational basis between the two stores.
With the support of GoRun, Wichita now hosts one of the largest running contingencies at the annual Pike’s Peak Marathon in Manitou Springs, Colorado, vying with the state of Arkansas as having the largest representation of participants outside of Colorado. This same support and representation has flooded the running fields of such prestigious races as the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon, among others, with runners sporting the official running logo of GoRun on their singlets.
At the Eisenhower Marathon in Abilene, Kansas, in April of this year, three of the top five finishers in the men’s race and the top finisher in the women’s race all wore GoRun uniforms as they crossed the finish line. Yet, there is no special requirement, other than purchasing the uniform, to run in GoRun colors, and at any given race, there are apt to be hundreds of GoRun affiliated runners among the field. As one might expect, the River Run field was speckled with hundreds of GoRun uniforms and running apparel, largely due to the popularity of the S2F clinic.
GoRun does sponsor an official competitive race team, by invitation, coached by store employee, Fernando Martinez. But nothing rankles Martinez’s feathers more quickly—and Swinicki’s and Mijares’s, for that matter—than for anyone to refer to this group as the “elite team”. “All of our customer runners are elite runners,” Martinez says. “There’s nothing elite about our sponsored team other than they tend to finish in the upper percentile of a lot of races.” The official Team GoRun is comprised of several former collegiate runners and seasoned masters and age group competitors who serve primarily as running resources and ambassadors to the GoRun Wichita running community. Aside from placing well at races, these team members are readily available to support and encourage all fellow GoRun runners at races and training seminars.
GoRun Wichita also sponsors the Flying Angels youth program for distance running and currently has about 80 pre-teen youths participating. Many of these youngsters have shown great promise and talent, but the primary focus of the Flying Angels is on positive encouragement while safely developing a passion for a sport that will hopefully lead to a lifelong love for running for these kids. There is also a ripple effect as many of these youngsters’ parents have taken up running in support of their children’s newfound passions.
Although the deadline for S2F registration has come and gone, one need not assume that the opportunity to be a part of GoRun’s many running gatherings and events has come and gone. All are welcome to join in at any of the group runs and clinics sponsored by GoRun, though some of the benefits that registered participants of S2F enjoy might not be available. A list of running events and training opportunities can be found on GoRun’s website at http://www.gorunwichita.com as well as their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/GoRunWichita.